The lawyer, one of the nameless narrators of Second Person Singular, seems to have it all: he’s one of the best Arab criminal attorneys working in Jerusalem, and he’s treated with respect in a city where Arabs are often disenfranchised. The lawyer is always trying to improve himself, and of the of the ways he does this is by attempting to be well-read. One day he stops by a used bookstore and picks up a copy of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata. When he gets home and begins flipping through the pages, he discovers a love note written in his wife’s handwriting that’s addressed to a man named Yonatan.
From here the book splits into two different stories. The lawyer, it turns out, is an intensely jealous type. Without even talking about it to his wife, he becomes convinced she’s having a passionate affair and is determined to find out who Yonatan is; as a successful criminal attorney, he certainly has the connections to begin investigating.
At this point, we’re also introduced to the second narrator, who knows all about Yonatan. Where the lawyer’s point-of-view is pretty singularly focused on thoughts of his wife’s affair, the second narrator’s point-of-view is what contributes to most of the plot. This narrator is almost exact opposite of the lawyer; he too is an Arab living in Jerusalem, but he’s poor, works as a social worker, and is witness to more of the ethnic tension and stereotyping that many Arabs face.
Second Person Singular is complex, funny, and thought-provoking. Sayed Kashua takes on the complicated topic of identity, but does so with satirical glee. Both of the narrators have had to put aside parts of their Arab heritage in order to carve out their lives in Jerusalem, and it was fascinating seeing Jerusalem through their eyes: a place where Jewish settlers, people native to Jerusalem, and Arab-Israeli immigrants like themselves — people who have left their rural villages in search of a better education and better jobs — all must coexist. Reading about their everyday life was one of my favorite aspects of the book, and it’s ripe for further discussion.
But my absolute favorite part of the book was the lawyer. Most of the action happens under the second narrator’s watch, but the lawyer’s jealously is what really keeps pushing the book’s development forward. The man is delusional and irrational, given to violent fantasies of revenge on his wife and Yonatan. It should be horrifying — and under any other circumstance, it would be — but the lawyer is so absurd that I just laughed (and laughed, and laughed again).
Words cannot properly express how much I love this book. I’m definitely buying a copy for my shelves, and I’ve already ordered one of Kashua’s previous books because I NEED MORE! He’s brilliant.
Second Person Singular was released on April 3, 2012 by Grove Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.